OPINION22 August 2019

Reimagining the role of young researchers

Opinion UK

Young researchers can bring more to the table than they are often given the opportunity to work on within research agencies, argues Jack Miles.

Agency office working work_crop

Young researchers are the lifeblood of research agencies. Despite this, the balance of tasks and functions young researchers perform vs. experienced researchers is outdated. However, this imbalance can change and benefit both young and experienced researchers.

Within research agencies, the traditional dynamic between young researchers and experienced researchers is:

  • Young researcher joins research agency from university
  • Experienced researcher upskills young researcher
  • Young researcher works solely on projects
  • Experienced researcher devotes time to research innovation and agency marketing efforts

However, young researchers’ skillsets and background now means that this balance of tasks can be:

  • Young researcher joins research agency
  • Experienced researcher and young researcher have a two-way learning relationship
  • Young researchers drive research innovation
  • Young researchers are central to agency marketing

What young researchers can teach experienced researchers

Young researchers are knowledgeable about open source data and analytics, content marketing and short form communication, all of which can help progress research methodologies and insight communication. 

  1. The open source opportunity  

It’s well-known that data is easily available. What’s less known is that young researchers are capitalising on open source data at university before they begin their careers. Consequently, they know how to locate and analyse open source data, often knowing where a brief’s answer is before questionnaire content is discussed. This means that by utilising young researchers’ knowledge of open source data, unnecessary questions can be avoided.

  1. The shared coding economy

These open source skills also extend to analytics. This is because coding for programs like Python and R are widely shared. Young researchers are heavily involved in this sharing. As a result, young researchers often have access to better analytical tools than those offered by traditional analytics software. By using young researchers’ knowledge of openly sourced code, it’s possible to access more powerful analytics, often at cheaper costs.

  1. Content culture

Young researchers have grown-up in the ‘content era’. The growth of content marketing also means there’s more platforms from which people can communicate en masse. From blogs to TedX stages, young researchers have capitalised on these opportunities. Given that insight communication is half the researcher’s battle, young researchers’ content skills can add value to how agencies share insights across client-side organisations.

  1. Short form

Linked to the last point, researchers are consistently competing for the attention of decision-makers, so less is more when it comes to how insights are communicated. Young researchers have grown up in the era of 140 characters, Instagram stories and WhatsApp shorthand. This visual heavy, word-light culture aligns with how to effectively communicate insights. 

How young researchers drive research innovation

By leading a digital life and coming from a variety of backgrounds, young researchers can help innovate agile methods due to their varied perspectives. 

  1. They’re digital first

Young researchers have grown-up post-analogue and are often more in-touch with digital innovations. As agility – often using digital tools – is helping meet growing client needs regarding efficiency, their digital focus to life is well-placed to support digital research innovations.

  1. And breadth second

Classically, researchers had academic backgrounds in social sciences or marketing. With more academic routes now available, young researchers are bringing more intellectual variety to research agencies than ever. Given that variety of perspectives is key to methodological innovation, young researchers and their varied backgrounds can add value to agency innovation.

Why should they be central to agency marketing?

Agencies too often only use experienced researchers for marketing efforts. However, involving young researchers in agency marketing provides clients with a better perspective of a company’s profile and simultaneously upskills young researchers.

  1. Clients buy people

Research agency marketing should be as much about people as products and services. However, it isn’t possible to build the people profiles of entire agencies if marketing activities are only conducted by experienced researchers. By having young researchers produce agency content and speak at conferences, agencies can build the profiles of all their staff and make their breadth of people more attractive to clients.

  1. Marketing can teach relevant research skills

Today’s young researchers will be tomorrow’s debrief presenters and authors of insight collateral. Conference stages – often with hundreds of onlookers – can be more daunting than debriefs. Similarly, the eye for detail on communication possessed by the industry press can be more laser-focussed than research clients. Having young researchers involved in conference presentations and content production holds them in good stead for tasks essential for their career.

Young researchers are bringing more skills to the table than ever before, so let them make the most of these skills and re-imagine their function within a research agency. By doing this, all parties involved – young and experienced researchers, agencies and clients – reap the benefits.

Jack Miles is senior director at Northstar Research

MRS provides a specialist network for young researchers called &more. &more is hosting the first MRS conference in October specifically for young professionals.